Make a 3-year plan: Step 6 - The yearly revision


How to apply big corporate strategy planning to your small business

A big corporate company has a long term as well as short term strategy that includes everything, every function and employee to ensure that they are reaching the business goals. This type of planning - a 3-year plan - is something I learned and lived by when working as a marketing project manager for a big global car brand, before I started Bear Bell Productions.

As I had no experience in running my own business, or knowledge of how you succeed as a pattern designer it was close at hand to plan my own business in the same way as I had learned from corporate life. And I found that it’s a great way to stay on track, know exactly what to do and not and how to stay focused - even for a small one-woman company. Perhaps even better than for a big one.

In a series of articles about how to make a 3-year plan you can learn how to apply big corporate strategies to your own business/blog/project like this too - and make sure you’ll make that big goal of yours happen.

This is the 6th and last step in this series and if you haven't read the first 5 you can find them all here >>


Step 6 - The yearly revision

When the first year is coming to an end it’s time to revise your 3-year plan and make a new one. This means that we do it all over again, this time one year more experienced and wiser. But before we can create a new plan there are a couple of things to do first.

Let’s do a little recap just to see where we're at:

We made a full 3-year plan where we defined the vision, mission, milestones, set objectives and ratios, decided on the main projects during year one and made a schedule to make sure to move things forward every week. 

Then comes the phase where we do the actual work. It’s the days, weeks and months of year 1 where we implement the beautiful plan we made and make things happen.

Are you recognising this? Yes, it’s the PDCA process that I was telling you about in Step 4.

We have done the PLAN and let’s imagine a year has passed so we also have the DO phase almost behind us (there might be a few weeks left since the revision is done at the end of the year).

Next comes the CHECK phase. That’s when we evaluate the results and the process. The last phase is ACT, that’s when we examine what worked and what did not to ultimately find a way to improve and do it even better the next time.

And when we have done this review of our first year we can start making the new 3-year plan, stepping things up.

For this step I have created a specific section in the workbook that will make it easier when it's time to review your first year. For creating the new 3-year plan you can reuse the Step 1-5 chapters. Just print them again and fill in the new plan.


<< Get your Make a 3-year plan workbook >>

CHECK: How did it go?

One important thing to mention first is that we can’t wait till the end of the year to check up on how things are going. This is something that needs to be done throughout the year or we loose track of things. We need to continuously take a step back, look at where we are in the plan, how it's going, are you on track, following the plan? Are the projects and tasks still valid or do they need to be adjusted or even scrapped or replaced by something else. 

This is about monitoring your plan and is something you do during the DO phase and when the end of the year is coming the results are not a surprise to you. The continuous monitoring how things are going is the key to succeeding with your plan. But as we are not perfect robots things WILL get off track and we most definitely will forget things or perhaps we just don’t feel like doing a specific task or project. 

When the first year is coming to an end it’s time to check the results again, to sum it all up, now with a bigger picture in mind. 

Let’s start with the big question first:

”Am I closer to my big goal, my vision, than I was a year ago?”

This may be a difficult one to answer, it’s a big fluffy goal and sometimes hard to put a finger on it. So as always, let’s break it down a bit and start with the easy questions about the details, then working up to the bigger objectives.

Did you reach those numbers?

The first questions would be about your ratios for this past year. Go through them function by function to check:

Product: did you add the number or products to you shop that you had set out? Or did you create the amount of pattern designs planned?

Sales: Did you reach the numbers, the dollars, make the calls, send your portfolio to all the companies?

And then continue with the rest of the functions; marketing, IT, HR, Finance, Logistics.

Did you do those projects?

The same goes for the main projects you had planned during the year. Did you do them all, or just some. Did you start them all, but only finished some?

A little but important disclaimer

Ok, so here I think I have to stop for just a second. Don’t get stressed and feel like a failure if you haven’t reached those numbers or done all those projects. The truth is that I have never managed to do all the things in my plan and there is a big risk that you won’t either. And that’s totally fine.

An objective or ratio that you set out for yourself or the business needs to be reasonable, it must be doable. Because there is no point in setting up a goal or plan to do a project that is impossible for you to manage. But as I said, we’re not perfect and we’re not robots, and things change and happen during a year. So don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t manage all the things you had planned. This is a part of the process and I’ll talk more about that in the ACT part.

But for this yearly revision check or strike out which ratios you reached, the projects you did and finished and leave the ones that are left to do. You will either bring them to the plans for the next year or decide to scrap them, depending on if they are still valid and can help you reach your goal.

Did you reach the milestone?

So even if you didn’t reach your function ratios to 100% or didn’t complete all the projects you had planned, you might still feel that you reached the milestone for the year.

The milestone is the vision for the year and is a fluffy goal on it’s own. So take a look at your milestone and ask yourself: 

Are you there? Have you become that milestone vision?

For example, if your year two milestone was "to be an experienced pattern designer", you might feel that you have accomplished that despite those missed numbers or incomplete projects. So this is an important part of the CHECK phase. What is your perception of it all?

And even if you did fulfill all your tasks, ratios and projects you need to answer that question too. Because there is always a risk that the objectives that you thought would support that milestone weren’t accurate, or that things just have changed. So just to make that last check, do you feel that you reached the milestone for this year?

No matter the answer to that question, before we move on to creating the new 3-year plan we should also take a look at our process.

ACT: What worked and what did not?

This question is not about if you reached your goals, but more about the process, the plan itself, from the big objectives down to the smallest ratio.

It’s important to reflect on this, because then you can resolve any issues and avoid the same mistakes when making the new plan, when you set your new milestones and objectives and when you make your project plan.

This is what is the essence of the Toyota Way is - kaizen - constant improvement.

How did the vision & mission statement work?

Looking at your plan you can start evaluating the big picture first. How did the vision and mission statement work as a beacon for you? Was it helpful to refer back to it once in a while to stay focused? Or did you perhaps forget all about it during the year?

The answers to those questions can help you improve the way you used the vision and mission. Either it’s about needing to define it better, perhaps it wasn’t ambitious or inspiring enough, or perhaps it just felt unclear. Well, now is the time to take a note and save for later.

And if you forgot about your vision, how can you make sure you keep it close and visible to remind you? Perhaps a big framed sign on the wall?

How did your milestones work?

After checking if you reached your ratios, objectives and completed the projects you can probably tell if your year 1 milestone was reasonable as well. If it wasn’t, was it too ambitious, or too easy? And in the same way as you just analysed your vision statement, was this years goal a help to you? Did it give you focus, or not? 

Either way you make a note on that and consider this for the new plan later.

You can also take a glance at your year 2 milestone while you’re at it. Perhaps that one has come in another light after a year?

How did the organisation of your business/project work?

When dividing your vision into measurable objectives we defined the different functions of our business, or big project. Now after a year, was your business sliced in the right way, or do you feel that it needs to be organised differently in order to get the work done right or more efficiently?

And those objectives you set up for each function, were they reasonable and accurate in order to move towards that big goal, toward your milestone? Did you capture everything or did you have to add other objectives during the year?

Take a look at both your functions and their objectives and circle what worked and what didn’t. The things that worked you keep and the things that didn’t you should either not include in your next plan or change them into something that you now think will work better.

How did the ratios work?

When setting those numbers to reach for every function and function objective, did you get it right? Or perhaps some of them weren’t relevant, perhaps you had forgotten about an important one? And also were they too easy to reach, or too difficult?

How did your project plan work?

This one is what get's me mostly. Because it's easy  to make a very ambitious project plan, optimistic in what you can manage, how much time it takes. And every year I learn that unexpected things got in the way, or that I just didn't feel like starting a specific project when it was planned, or sometimes not to do it at all.

Just embrace that, and move on. You always get new opportunities to get it done, if you want to.

And now it’s time for that big question again: Have you come closer to your big goal, your vision?

I’m quite sure that your answer is yes and that’s why it’s now time for the next step of the yearly review:

To make a new 3-year plan

Yes, that’s right. We’re going to do it all again. This is a circular process.

The first year is your guinea pig, it has to be a bit of a trial and error, but now with a year behind you, filled with experiences and new influences you can attack your next plan with learnings, new ideas and knowledge about your world and your business. And yourself.

Depending on your answer in the CHECK step when asking yourself whether you had reached your year 1 milestone or not (by reaching your ratios and checking off the objectives or by asking yourself if you did) your new milestones and the vision & mission statement needs to be adjusted.

Your new year 1 milestone

If your answer is yes (yes I reached the year 1 milestone)
If you did reach all those objectives and this years milestone you now have to take a look at the goal for the coming year, the previous year 2 milestone.

Is that still up to date? Is it still valid? Is that where you want to be in one year from now? Many things can change in a year, the circumstances of the world, you and your dreams, so you have to review this too. 

If it feels off and not accurate you go back to the step 3 of the 3-year strategy: Define your milestones and set yearly ratios and see if you can redefine the milestone to fit into the new circumstances. 

If the next year milestone still works, this now becomes your new year 1 milestone. 

If your answer is no (no I didn’t reach my milestone)
If you don’t feel that the year 1 milestone is reached you either keep it as your next milestone, only updating the objectives and ratios a bit, or rather - you set a new one.

Because even if you didn’t reach the year one milestone completely, you are at least well on your way and that makes it unreasonable to keep the year one milestone as it is.

You set a new milestone by asking yourself:

Where do I want to be in one year from now?

And perhaps you can tweak the current one a little bit, making it just slightly more challenging which is good. Aim high, remember! Make it inspiring still, even if it’s more or less the same.

And this is totally ok. The first year of your first 3-year plan is your guinea pig, remember?

The new year 2 milestone

No matter if you have reached your year one milestone or not you have to take a look at your new year 2 milestones as well.

If you checked your year one milestone and can move forward in your plan, the previous year 2 milestone will now be your year 1 milestone, and your year 3 milestone your new year 2 milestone.

This actually means that your big goal, your vision moves over to year 2 and leaves an empty space for year 3. 

And the big question is: should you have a new vision now?

The new vision

By now, a year later - and as I’ve mentioned before - the world, you and your business have changed in one year, and there is a good chance that your big goal, your vision now is a bit closer than before. Hopefully it is. And since one of the factors of a 3-year plan is to aim high and to challenge yourself, you now should examine that vision of yours and see how you can develop that and go even further.

Perhaps all the things you have learned and experienced during this year have brought you some new ideas and insights that can help you aim higher.

Your new vision doesn’t have to be completely new, it just has to be beyond your previous one. If your current vision is to be an established and hired pattern designer, the next step and a new sharpened vision could for example be ”to be a fully booked pattern designer” or ”a wanted pattern designer” (and by wanted I mean a designer that a lot of companies really want to work with - not someone with a price you your head :-).

A new vision can even extend the role as a pattern designer. Perhaps being a pattern designer is just a part of a new role - like an influencer in the world of pattern design. Your new vision and mission could be about sharing and guiding others to reach their pattern designer dreams, which could in turn inspire other revenue sources and have a very noticeable impact on the product, sales and marketing department and other functions.

For defining a new vision and year 3 milestone you can go back to step 1 again. Ask the same questions and come up with something inspiring and challenging. Remember to be ambitious. Aim high!

The mission

This may also mean that you have to check up on your mission. Is it still valid, is it still what you want to do, contribute to the world, or is it just a piece of something bigger now?

Your functions and objectives

Now pull out those notes from the ACT phase before when analysing what worked and what did not for your functions and business objectives. Then go back to Step 2 and decide what functions your business consists of. Reuse the ones that worked from your previous plan, or adjust them if your notes says you’ll be better off in a different type of organisation of your tasks.

Set the new objectives that will secure the new vision.

Setting new ratios

Looking at your new or slightly updated milestone for the coming year, break it down into smaller pieces until you have those measurable facts and numbers that are your new ratios to reach by the end of the year. Revisit Step 3 if you need a reminder.

Make a new project plan for the coming year

And as before, take a look at the tasks that you have to do in order to reach those ratios and objectives. What do you need to do in order to develop your business or function from one level to another, and that will move you closer towards the milestone? What tools, platforms or actions do you need in order to create value for your business this year? 

Go back to step 4 to define the main projects for the coming year, and also consider if you have any unfinished projects when you create your new project plan.

It’s your big goal and you are the boss

Revising your 3-year plan is all about evaluating the year passed, then repeating, but doing it wiser and better for every year. It’s also about challenging yourself constantly, not settling, always improving wherever you can. That will make it easier for you to focus, get rid of the waste - the things that doesn't create any real value or move you in the right direction. It’s about doing the right things, doing things right and not stressing or loosing track and feel lack of control.

So give it the best you can, but be kind to yourself. A plan should be ambitious, not stressful. It should be a light that shows the way, not a master who enslaves. Remember; it’s your plan, you’re the boss and if the boss decides that the plan can be on hold for a few days, a week, a month, it can. Isn’t this exactly why we started our own creative journey, to be our own captains?

I want to end this series by wishing you good luck with your creative business, and hope that this has helped you a bit on your way towards that big goal of yours.